The Wife:

Nip/Tuck is disgusting, outrageous and bawdy as all hell. For these reasons, it is probably one of my favorite shows on television. Academically, I’m interested in representations of the body, so a show about plastic surgery, cutting and the relationships between the deep and the superficial, the skin and the organs, the body and its abject and the boundary territory of the skin is wholly appealing to me. “Ronnie Chase” picks up where the Big Crazy Cliffhanger from the first half of this strike-shortened season, with Sean McNamara bleeding to death on the floor of his surgery, his daughter Annie still on the table. But rather than launch straight into a new series of events, writer/creator Ryan Murphy takes us back and makes us watch that entire terrifying scene again, but this time with new explicit details.

Barred from the premises of McNamara/Troy, Colleen Rose managed to sneak past the guards by donning a disguise and bandaging her face as though she recently had a face lift. Through a series of small near-encounters, she successfully evades both Liz and Christian and makes her way into Sean’s surgery unseen, brutally stabbing him with the sharpest kitchen knife she was able to find in the McNamara/Troy break room. Sean, fearing for Annie’s life, still hooked up to anesthesia, drags himself across the floor to turn his machines off, which would leave Annie stable, but Colleen drags him back into her arms, suddenly becoming completely unhinged and realizing that she’s done a terrible thing to her favorite cookie. She drags Sean’s body out of surgery and through the hallways of McNamara/Troy, leaving a snail-like trail of blood in her wake. Liz returns to the surgery to find Sean missing and, noticing Annie’s vitals are crazy out of whack, goes to turn them off, but slips in the massive pool of blood on the floor. She calls out for Christian, who is able to help her stabilize Annie in time. Christian follows the trail of blood to Sean’s office, where he finds the door locked and has to resort to trying to kick the thing in because of his broken arm. Inside, Sean pleads with Colleen to call an ambulance lest he bleeds to death, but she cannot comprehend. When he realizes that she has left the knife by his side, he asks her to keep her hands on his chest to monitor his heartbeat . . . and then he stabs her just before Christian can kick in the door. This series of events was so much more awesome than I could have even anticipated.

Four months after the incident, Sean has been teaching plastic surgery and, while he still remains a partner at McNamara/Troy, he is hesitant to return to surgery. The accident has left him wheelchair-bound, and he refuses to return to work until he knows his hands will be as good as they once were, refusing, even, to perform a breast reduction on Liz, despite her insistence that he and Christian do the surgery together. I loved the scenes of Sean teaching his plastic surgery class. For once, it seems like he’s found a place where he has real power. Viewers of Nip/Tuck know that the dynamic in the Christian/Sean relationship for the first 4 seasons relied on the fact that Sean was the more talented surgeon, but Christian was the image of perfection that brought in all of their Miami clients. After the move to L.A., things changed. Sean suddenly became a television star, getting a recurring role on the medical soap Hearts & Scapels and Christian, unaware of what to do with himself without his reign as the face of McNamara/Troy resorted to becoming a gigolo on the side. Until they got to L.A., Sean was always positioned as inferior to Christian in terms of masculine prowess, but in the classroom, I think Sean becomes more like Christian – powerful, virile and authoritative. Despite the fact that his body is severely damaged, Sean finally seems to have found his voice in the classroom.

With Christian handling the consult for Liz’s breast reduction solo, he discovers a lump in her breast, which leads her through a quick and dizzying mammogram and diagnosis process. Liz doesn’t have breast cancer, it turns out, but rather hard fibrous breast tissue, a result of drinking too much diet soda and coffee. Christian then admits that he also has a lump in his breast tissue, which he always assumed was a burst sweat gland from wailing on his pecs so much, but might just be fibrous because of the coffee-fueled diet. Liz’s oncologist encourages him to get his breast tissue checked anyway, as men do indeed develop breast cancer. Christian, however, does not fare from such a pleasant diagnosis as Liz. He has stage two “tit cancer,” a prospect which challenges the machismo he’s spent his whole life cultivating. Awaiting his diagnosis, he asks Liz if Tennessee Williams, who was openly gay, died of breast cancer. He didn’t, Liz replies, but Richard Roundtree did.

“Shaft had tit cancer?” – Christian

The breast cancer diagnosis upsets Christian deeply. Not only does he think he’s going to die because, as a doctor, he knows what stage two means, but because he’s been diagnosed with a disease that complicates his notions of masculinity. (For those who haven’t had a cancer experience, stage two cancers are considered locally advanced, which isn’t horrible, but means that its more difficult for doctors to be certain that they’ve removed the entirety of a tumor. The margins between stage two and stage three aren’t very wide.) Christian thinks it’s impossible for hyper-masculine men to die of what he dubs a pussy disease – something he won’t allow to be “taken out” by. The fact that Sean allowed a pesky 17-year-old resident from his plastic surgery class to observe Christian in an earlobe reconstruction surgery, constantly questioning Christian’s technique (and therefore his masculinity), drives him batshit insane. (Note to all plug-earring aficionados: don’t go past 00 gauge or this surgery will happen to you should you ever decide to take your plugs out!)

Jesus, Liz, I cant have tit cancer!

Jesus, Liz, I can't have tit cancer!

Matt, meanwhile, has given up first time fairies porn and meth labs and dating Israeli burn victims and banging his half-sister and has decided to help his father through his physical therapy. As Matt helps Sean through his hour of walking with the aid of parallel bars, he tells his father that he’s decided to enroll at Santa Monica College in heavy science and anatomy courses, hoping to transfer to UCLA pre-med in two years and “go the doctor route,” setting in motion the events we know to be true from Sean’s fever-dream “Connor McNamara, 2026.” Sean is extremely proud of his son’s newfound interest in no longer having the most fucked-up sex life I’ve ever seen on TV (there was a great recap of these events at the beginning of the sister-fucking episode) and making something of himself, but Christian is still really angry about that whole sister-fucking thing. After Matt leaves for class, Sean and Christian have a “who’s more pitiful” fight in which Christian reveals to his friend that he does, indeed, have tit cancer. Suddenly sympathetic, Sean tells Christian that, while its fine to be worried as a doctor, Sean knows from the very real dream that was “Connor McNamara, 2026” that in the future, both McNamara and Troy were very much alive and very much happy. Christian, Sean notes, looked like Ricardo Montalban and had a wife on each arm. (That is indeed what Future Christian looked like.) This information is mildly comforting to Christian, but he still heads out to drown his sorrows at a bar.

Sean meets him there later and the two damaged men manage to pick up some hot dates and take them back home. Sean has some ridiculously hot wheelchair sex with a blonde 15 years his junior, while Christian gets a pity fuck out of a lonely brunette. All is going well for Christian until he starts squeezing his partner’s breasts too hard, turning sex-play into a doctor’s visit when he suggests that she get a mammogram. She is offended because she thinks this mean’s he’s calling her old (since we ladies don’t start getting routine mammograms until we hit 40), but I think he’s just being overly cautious. Self-exams are important, friends. Early detection is your best hope against cancer, so if someone you’re fucking tells you that you have a lump, you don’t get offended. You make a fucking doctor’s appointment. Worried about his future, Christian asks Liz to take care of Wilbur should anything happen to him, which Liz agrees to. As a friend, she assures Christian that nothing will happen to him, but as a doctor, she agrees it’s a good idea to get his affairs in order.

This episode ended with some very powerful images of wounded masculinity, as Sean wakes from a dream-state (into another dream-state) and walks to the bathroom, past his wheelchair, to stand in the mirror and examine his numerous stab wounds. Christian, meanwhile, returns from his cancer extraction and stands before the bathroom mirror, unwrapping his dressing to reveal his once perfect chest, now dark, scarred and concave – something now missing from a place he was once so full of pride for. I think this scene is particularly relevant in light of the bedroom scenes that took place only minutes prior. Sean may be more physically damaged than his friend, but somehow that damage has made him more masculine than he ever was before. His wounds are manly wounds, stab wounds – wounds that have a story of survival and the heart of a fighter behind them. In some ways, they transcend the idea of being wounds. And then there’s Christian, once so mired in perfection, and now ruined, in many ways feminized. His wound does not add to his masculine character, but detracts from it. He is missing a part of himself physically, but that physical loss has damaged him further on a psychological level. The sunken hole in his pectoral muscle is merely a physical manifestation of that psychological condition.

I can’t wait for more of this season. I want to see the perfect image of Christian shatter further and, hopefully, rebuild. I want to see more of this new, virile Sean. My husband and I have often poked fun at the fact that some of Nip/Tuck‘s characters are never the same from season to season – Matt and Kimber, mainly – but Christian and Sean have always been the same people, just evolving and changing in a really natural way that suits who they are and who they will become. Mostly, I just can’t wait to write about it. Sean and Christian seem like they’re going to be some excellent figures for my continued research as this season progresses.

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